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My top 10 sports books

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

With Christmas within sight, we thought we'd provide you with some inspiration on the best books to put on your Christmas list. We're delighted that an old friend of Unofficial Partner, Simon Dent, has agreed to share his top 10 sports books of all time.

Also it's worth pointing our that Simon is a very keen runner and on the 6th March, 2021 he and Jamie Peacock MBE are running the 45 Mile Green Man Ultra for Greenhouse Sports. Please can you sponsor them here -

1) Winning by Clive Woodward

Winning is a fantastic read; the story of the man who ultimately guided England to victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Woodward, the king of ‘marginal gains’ gives fascinating insight as to what got England over the line. It’s clear too, that the squad was full of leaders, arguably the golden generation of Rugby.

I had either forgotten or was oblivious at the time that England were odds on favourites for the title. Woodward never seemed to doubt they would win that trophy.

2) Relentless by Tim Grover

Grover is the performance coach for some of the greatest athletes ever to walk the planet.

Grover talks about the mentality of the very top performers, the unstoppable ones whom he defines as “Cleaners”. The very good ones are the “Closers” and the good ones, the “Coolers”. He explains that the difference between the three is, predominantly, a mindset.

He references lots of examples of his work including time spent with his biggest clients, Charles Barkley and the late Kobe Bryant.

If you’re looking for motivation to achieve a goal or to be better at whatever you do in life, this book will help.

3) Leading by Sir Alex Ferguson with Michael Moritz

Leading is one the best leadership books that I’ve read. For me, it’s right up there with Ray Dalio’s Principles and Stephen Schwarzman’s What It Takes.

Fergie gives captivating analysis to some of the pivotal leadership decisions of his 38-year career as a Manager. With his friend and collaborator Sir Michael Moritz, they draw out lessons anyone can use in business and indeed life to generate long-term, transformational success.

Being a huge football fan myself, I’ve read many books in this category so I can say with confidence that and this is a breath of fresh air; no boozy anecdotes here!

4) Phil Knight – Shoe Dog

The memoir of the founder of Nike was always going to be interesting.

What blew me away the most was the personal story running alongside the building of the business, something often left out in this genre.

It’s incredible get to know the inner workings of a man now worth over $25 billion, the founder of one of the most iconic brands on the planet, at the very beginning of his story. If you are a founder, this is a must read.

5) Jonny Wilkinson – JONNY

I’ve recently finished reading this, I’m not sure what took me so long!

Jonny lays bare his character, flaws and all. It does feel as though he had significant involvement in the writing of his book, unlike many other autobiographies. A very complex man, it is interesting to read of his battles with his own inner need for perfection. Parts of the book are very emotional and you feel that he doesn’t always enjoy Rugby. It is brutally honest and talks about mental health a long time before it was part of the conversation in professional sport. In this sense and in many other ways too, he was a trailblazer.

6) David Beckham – My Side

Arguably the greatest British footballer of his generation, this was the first sports autobiography I read.

I became a massive fan of Beckham after reading this and getting more insight into the level of his dedication. A devoted father and husband, you get the sense he was the ultimate role model for Cool Britannia.

The most interesting section is when he dives into his relationship with Fergie, a must-read if you’ve read his book too!

7) Rich Roll – Finding Ultra

A huge role model and inspiration for me personally, Rich Roll is a former lawyer and addict turned Ultra endurance athlete. He kicked started his ultra-running career at the age of 43 and is now one of the most famous endurance athletes in the world. The book is raw, honest and pulls no punches.

This book is inspirational on so many levels; love, wellness, working through tough times and overcoming obstacles, pushing your body to its absolute limits, courage to take the first step, becoming your most authentic self and accepting that often life takes you on a journey that you may not have planned but that ultimately, exceeds all.

8) David Epstein – Sports Gene

The great debate of the 10,000 hour rule, in this book Epstein uses practical examples of nature vs nurture.

It’s a great mix of journalistic reporting, scientific reviewing and storytelling. By the end of the book, I fell very much into the nurture side of this debate.

9) Luke Sutton – Back from the edge

Not often do you get such an honest account from someone who played sport at the highest level.

Luke is brutally honest and he addresses a number of subjects that sports organisations and governing bodies tend to brush under the carpet, head on. A legend. I can’t wait to read his new book this Christmas.

10) Travis Macy - The Ultra Mindset

Traversing a boundary somewhere between self-help and endurance adventure writing, Macy has written a brilliant book in The Ultra Mindset. Compelling narratives provide a huge amount of insight into the world of ultra-running (my chosen vice) and adventure racing, highlighting internal and external challenges and extracting key lessons gleaned from adversity.

Travis shares many of his coping mechanisms, so if you are interested in what goes on in the mind of an endurance athlete during the most challenging moments of his races this is for you. It’s a book that entertained and inspired from the start.

Simon Dent is a sports business entrepreneur.

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